Contents :  Before Night Falls | The Devil’s Backbone | Dressed to Kill | Purple Noon

With a near hallucinatory-like quality and a beautiful soundtrack to match, Before Night Falls is skillfully directed by artist Julian Schnabel.  Chronicling the life of author and poet Reinaldo Arenas, the film follows his life as a child and young man in revolutionary Cuba; his persecution as an artist by a paranoid and increasingly violent government; his escape to the United States during the Mariel boatlift; and his tragic AIDES-related death in NYC in 1990.  Spanish actor Javier Bardem earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Arenas in a performance that is subtle, tender, savagely funny at times, and ultimately heartbreaking.  He earned raves, along with another Oscar nomination for the 2009 film Biutiful, and more recently as the villain Raoul Silva in the James Bond film, Skyfall, but its his performance as Arenas where he soars.  Sean Penn makes a cameo (he is almost unrecognizable when he first appears) as does Johnny Depp who portrays not one but two different characters.  Although the film is available on DVD, there is momentum building for Criterion to lend their film restoration and packaging expertise in releasing the film on Blu-ray.


The Devil's Backbone
© The Criterion Collection

Young Carlos has been left at the doorsteps of an orphange, located in a remote section of Spain; it is becoming more and more difficult for the headmistress to walk as her artificial leg becomes a greater burden; soldiers fighting in the Civil War are quickly approaching; there is an unexploded bomb in the central courtyard of the building and rumors of gold hidden somewhere in its catacombs; and the ghost of young murdered boy, Santi, wanders the halls.  And all these various elements collide in the brilliant gothic horror story, The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro.  The film deservedly won raves and was released in a 2-disc collection by Sony Pictures a few years ago.  It received a much-deserved upgrade with The Criterion Collection edition on Blu-ray.  A much-needed new digital film restoration has done justice to the sun-soaked exterior shots of the orphanage while simultaneously lending an air of creepiness to the night-time scenes of the building’s haunted interiors.

It was described by noted film critic, David Denby, in New York Magazine as the “first great film of the eighties” and it has been restored beautifully and issued in Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.  Suspense director Brian DePalma should be quite proud of the results as his brilliant and Dressed to Kill holds up well.

© The Criterion Collection

Starring Nancy Allen as a witness to a crime; Michael Caine as a psychiatrist with a dangerous patient; Angie Dickinson as a bored housewife; Dennis Franz as a detective trying to catch a killer; and Keith Gordon, as Dickinson’s son, with some inventive tricks up his sleeve to untwist a Rubrik’s Cube of clues, “Dressed to Kill” was shocking when it was released in 1980.  Graphic in terms of language, nudity and violence, it was nonetheless praised for its visual style and soundtrack.

With nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho, DePalma kills off his star within a half-hour.  Those 30 minutes, however, are characterized by two of the most talked-about scenes in modern American film-making.  The first is a virtually silent, 7-minute sequence in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (substituting for New York City’s Metropolitan.)  Dickinson pursues a stranger throughout the museum’s galleries, only to find herself being pursued.  It quickly became known as the “cat-and-mouse” sequence in film circles and it stands up beautifully even by today’s standards.

© The Criterion Collection

The second is the murder sequence itself, taking place in the confines of elevator.  With an ominous sense of foreboding delivered through the stares of a child, multiple camera shots, and the glint of a straight-edge razor, DePalma solidified his reputation as director of bravura style, staging and editing.  What ensues thereafter is nothing short of dazzling.  Multiple images focused in the same frame, split screens and an abundance of mirrors throughout all help propel the notion of dual personality and mistaken identities.  DePalma’s longtime composer Pino Donaggio never scored a film more beautifully and cinematographer Ralph Bode, who has since passed since the film’s release, should be proud that his work has easily stood the test of time.

© The Criterion Collection

Purple Noon
© The Criterion Collection

An atmosphere of unease and mistaken identity permeates René Clément’s classic 1960 film “Plein Soleil,” or Purple Noon, which has been remastered with a new digital transfer and repackaged on Blu-ray in a special edition format by The Criterion Collection.  The ever-so-cool Alain Delon stars as the original Tom Ripley, an imposter with sinister intentions, in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”  Rarely has murder and mistaken identity looked so beautifully intoxicating and seductive in the sun-soaked Italian coastlines.

© The Criterion Collection


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